There is no doubt that when you become a parent for the first time your world changes; utterly and overnight. I know mine did. There are many things you are prepared for – although inevitably under-prepared despite your best efforts – and some surprises. Here’s one.
Even three and a half years on I am still surprised by how much I am now affected by bad news involving children. My tolerance level for news stories, films, TV or books that deal with death, illness or violence towards children is next to zero. I was never the toughest of souls – don’t get Dr J started on my pain threshold – but I have always been able to stomach some of the worse of life as told through the news and other media. Now, it takes all of my self control to not burst into tears or just turn something off or over when it strays into child-danger territory.
This week, three raw examples. The tragic case of Charlie Gard has caught national and international attention with its inevitable desperate ending and devastating impact on family and friends. It has also taken my breath away and every time his bereft parents are shown on TV my hearts sinks a little. Selfishly I always think about me and mine; there but for the grace of God go I.
I picked up a book when browsing aimlessly in Waterstones recently – The Adversary’ by Emmanuel Carrere – an extraordinary true story of deception and murder. *Spoiler alert*, sadly, the murder involves the death – amongst others – of two young children. The book was “unputdownable” as it had advised me on its front cover and so it proved as I read it in 24 hours, although I confess to having to skim read the pages in which their deaths were described in graphic detail. I could not get the image of my beautiful daughter’s face out of my mind and the description – from the murderer – of his last conversation with his children before he killed them actually brought a little bit of sick into my mouth.
Finally, I was working at home this morning, trying to write a range of things for a range of folk. I have two MOs for such a scenario – both involve some background noise. One – not followed today – is to listen to music, usually classical or Tony Bennett – both providing the perfect relaxing surround sound without prompting too much air guitar. The second – today’s preference – is for a familiar film, documentary or TV show. I don’t watch it but simply have it alongside me – often on the iPad – as company whilst I work. I generally choose suff I’ve seen many, many times. Incidentally, I have been through the complete West Wing at least 15 times and tonight’s accompany as I write this is Vaughan Williams.
This morning I chose Schindler’s List – partly for the beauty of the haunting soundtrack and the stunning dialogue. I was drawn in to watch at one point – a section of the film that has moved me before but not like today – the scene following the clearing of the Krakow ghetto as a young girl leaves her hiding place to find her mother – who is on the street outside – she herself being sent away from the hiding spot because it is too full. I was mesmerised – not by the horror of the events unfolding on the screen, although I am yet to watch that film without crying somewhere amongst my anger – but for my own wife and daughter. The bond that develops between children and parents is so special – so breakable that sometimes even the thought of it can evoke the strongest of emotions. When I watch Dr and Miss J together and see them laughing it brings the biggest sense of pride and soaring to my heart.
I knew how much my parents loved me and my sister long ago but becoming a dad heightens that understanding. I will no doubt experience another overwhelming example this weekend when I watch my dad walk his only daughter down the aisle. He is just shy of his 80th birthday and I know what an emotional experience that will be for him – I know from my own experience of taking Dr J’s hand from her father – tears rolling down his face – at the altar of our wedding that it is a beautiful and yet difficult moment. As my dad walks his only daughter down the aisle, I will look at mine, walking just behind her – the world’s finest flower girl. I know now that the tears will be flowing and the dad in me will be bursting with pride, love and joy.